6 November 2007Displaced Somalis who have fled fighting in Mogadishu are living in “extremely harsh conditions” with reports of malnutrition and rape, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which recently joined other agencies in assessing their plight. Displaced Somalis who have fled fighting in Mogadishu are living in “extremely harsh conditions” with reports of malnutrition and rape, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which recently joined other agencies in assessing their plight.The evaluation mission on Saturday found that facilities in Afgooye, a small town west of the Somali capital, is struggling to absorb swelling populations with scant resources. “Entire families are now crammed into tiny huts,” said UNHCR spokesman William Spindler in Geneva.Hygiene remains poor in the crowded settlements raising fears of an outbreak of cholera, he said, voicing concerns about the nutritional status of young children. The UN team visited a therapeutic feeding centre, where they found “some 50 malnourished children, some of them too weak to cry.”Leaders in some of the settlements also reported several cases of rape and called for improved security and protection of the IDPs, Mr. Spindler said.The team “found thousands of newly displaced Somalis living in extremely harsh conditions,” he said, noting that during the last week, 15 new makeshift settlements have mushroomed along the road between Mogadishu and Afgooye, bringing to 50 the total number of spontaneous camps lining the route. The flare-up in fighting between insurgents and Ethiopian forces in Mogadishu nearly a week ago has displaced an estimated 90,000 people – more than half of them to Afgooye, according to UNHCR, which said another 17,000 people moved to safer neighbourhoods within the capital.“The UN inter-agency team found that in one settlement near Afgooye, the 13,000 people living there for the last few months had been joined last week by another 7,000 displaced Somalis,” said Mr. Spindler. More people continued arrive in the already fragile site. Another site with 10,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) received 2,000 more over the past week, he added. “The IDP settlements are now taxing the resources of neighbouring villages, which are also experiencing difficulties.”The agency is warning that some of the basic infrastructure set up in settlements in and around Afgooye can no longer meet the needs of the large numbers of new IDPs. Mr. Spindler said that water distribution systems need to be expanded and health centres need to be strengthened to cope with the spike in the population in and around Afgooye. Despite a lull in fighting since last week, sporadic gun battles have been reported. There are also reports of Ethiopian troop reinforcements being deployed in Mogadishu, according to the agency, which has already distributed aid to 78,000 people in Afgooye this year, and is currently preparing other distributions along with other agencies.